Report reveals the behavioral health patterns of U.S. military wives and children

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Report reveals the behavioral health patterns of U.S. military wives and children

A first-of-its-kind report using data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report examines the behavioral health patterns of wives and children of military personnel -- both in terms of substance use and mental illness issues. The report found that in general, military wives (women ages 18 to 49) and children (ages 12 to 17) have substance use and mental illness rates similar to corresponding age groups in the general population.

Some in the healthcare field have been concerned that hardships such as the prolonged absence of a loved one on deployment or frequent moving may put the families of military personnel at an elevated risk for substance use or mental illness. The report’s findings indicate this is not generally the case; however, there may be some areas where families of military personnel have different behavioral health characteristics.

“It is vitally important that we do everything possible to meet the behavioral healthcare needs of people who have sacrificed so much for our nation,” said SAMHSA Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto. “This report will help SAMHSA and others in the field offer programs better designed to address issues that affect military wives and children.”

This report focuses on the wives of military personnel because there were not enough male respondents in the 2015 NSDUH report with a spouse in the military to generate reliable estimates for the husbands of military personnel. SAMHSA will expand the analysis of the behavioral health of military families, including that of husbands of military personnel, as additional years of data are collected.

Substance Use Patterns:

The report found that in 2015, 12.8 percent of military wives aged 18 to 49 used illicit drugs in the past year. This rate is almost identical to the rate of all married women in this age group (12.9 percent). However, military wives were less likely than all married women in the 18 to 49 age group to have used marijuana in the past year (5.1 percent versus 8 percent).

Military wives were more likely than all married women in the 18 to 49 age group to have used alcohol in the past 30 days (67.8 percent versus 53.8 percent). In addition, military wives had higher rates of binge drinking in the past 30 days than did all married women (31.5 percent versus 22.7 percent).

The difference in drinking and binge drinking rates between military wives and all married women may attributable to the fact that military wives tend to be younger (more military wives were in the 18 to 25 age group than most married women aged 18 to 49 ). People in 18 to 25 age group generally more likely to drink and binge drink than people in other age groups.

In 2015, 19.6 percent of military children ages 12 to 17 used illicit drugs in the past year —virtually the same percentage found among all children in this age group (17.5 percent). Rates between the two groups were also very similar in terms of past 30 day alcohol use (9.3 percent for military children and 9.6 for all children) and binge drinking (4.6 percent for military children and 5.8 percent for all children).

Substance Use Treatment Patterns:

The report also shows that the percentage of military wives receiving past year substance use treatment (0.9 percent) is nearly identical to the percentage of all married women in the same age group who received past year substance use treatment (0.7 percent). Similarly, military children received past year substance use treatment at the same rate as all children in the same age group -- 0.8 percent.

Mental Illness Patterns:

Military wives were more likely to have experienced any mental illness in the past year (29.1 percent), compared to 19.7 percent of all married women. However, there was no statistically significant difference in the estimates of past year major depressive episode among military wives and other wives in that age group (11.8 percent versus 7.3 percent).

There also was no statistically significant difference in the estimates of past year major depressive episode among military children and all children aged 12 to 17 (16.7 percent versus 12.5 percent).

Mental Illness Treatment Patterns:

The report showed that 22.6 percent of military wives received some form of mental health treatment in the past year -- not statistically different from the 16.9 percent of all married women in this age group. Military children also received past year mental health treatment in a specialty mental health setting at about the same rate as all children their age (17.8 percent versus 13.3 percent).

SAMHSA Programs and Services:

SAMHSA provides a wide array of programs designed to address the behavioral health needs of military families. These programs include:

SAMHSA Service Member Veterans and their Families Technical Assistance Center – The Center works with states and territories to strengthen their behavioral healthcare systems for service members, veterans and their families http://www.samhsa.gov/smvf-ta-center

SAMHSA’s National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCTSI) Network Military and Veteran Families Program – This program analyses and provides vital information about how to deal with unique experiences that may place military members at greater risk of trauma or mental conditions. It also analyses and offers vital information to military families, health professionals and other parts of the community working to address these issues:

http://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/learning-materials-resources#military

Information on these and other resources can be found at SAMHSA’s webpage: URL

The report, Spouses and Children of U.S. Military Personnel: Substance Use and Mental Health Profile from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health is available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-MilitaryFamily-2015/NSDUH-MilitaryFamily-2015.htm

For more information, contact the SAMHSA Press Office at 240-276-2130.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

Last Updated: 11/02/2016